SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert has a place in the NBA record books.
The Utah Jazz center entered Monday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns tied for the most dunks in a single season, and he passed Dwight Howard’s mark of 269 with 4:42 remaining in the second quarter.
Perhaps it was fitting that the dunk came on a play Gobert credited as the biggest reason he’s had so many slams this season. Donovan Mitchell brought the ball up the floor, Gobert set a pick for him at the 3-point line and rolled hard to the basket.
Suns center Deandre Ayton then had the task of trying to stop both a Mitchell drive to the rim and a lob to Gobert. He opted to focus on Mitchell, who lobbed a pass over his outstretched arms and Gobert slammed it home.
Those high lob passes have been a staple of the Jazz’s offense this season after head coach Quin Snyder and his staff last summer identified it as something that could be effective.
“I think my teammates have done a great job finding me this year compared to last year,” Gobert said Monday morning after Utah’s shootaround. “I have way more lobs, way more high passes this year, and it puts me in a great position to finish. I think it’s a great offensive play. It’s hard, and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
According to the subscription-based website Cleaning The Glass, entering Monday, 39.2 percent of all the Jazz’s shots this season had come from four feet or closer to the basket, good enough for fifth in the NBA. A whopping 89 percent of Gobert’s total shot attempts had come from that close.
While the team had already been seeking lobs to Gobert regularly, a conversation Snyder had with Hall of Famer John Stockton a few months ago affirmed in his mind that it was a good idea to keep doing it.
“I have a great idea,” Stockton said to Snyder. “Throw it where only Rudy can get it.”
Snyder noted that it takes a great deal of togetherness to complete alley-oops, but the team has bought in.4 comments on this story
“Something that requires that level of connectivity, they just need to do it together, and our guys embraced it, and I think they recognized that it’s something that can help our team,” he said. “I think Joe (Ingles), Ricky (Rubio), Donovan, all those guys, really embrace throwing that pass.”
Gobert, who knew he just needed one dunk to set the record Monday but said he didn’t think about it too much when it happened, sees it as his responsibility to finish what a passer starts.
“I think it took us to a different level offensively,” he said. “When someone throws an alley-oop and you finish, everyone’s happy, the one who makes the pass and the one with the dunks. It’s a great play.”